Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Learning Season

This is the time of year when coaches get better – clinic season! I wasn’t able to get to as many as I normally do (missed the Las Vegas Glazier clinic this year), but I still have chances to learn. This Saturday I’ll be in Orange County at the Glazier clinic, listening to some OL topics, a Hudl topic, some quick game pass concepts and some zone read stuff. 

As always, I’ll need to update my book list as well, because I know I’ll end up picking out at least one title to add to my library.

Nike is also having their Coach of the Year clinic here in March. I’m not sure I’m making it to that, as quite honestly I prefer the Glazier format of more varied speakers and more focused topics. But if I get the chance (i.e., someone comes through on a staff pass), then I’ll certainly take advantage of it.

Finally, in May, I’ll be over in Glendale AZ at LeCharles Bentley’s OL Performance World for his first-ever coaches clinic. I think that’ll be a unique experience to pick his brain. He’s limited it to 50 coaches, so I’m very happy to be in that group.

This past weekend, I watched for the first time a couple of episodes of “Friday Night Tykes”……wow – what a train wreck those people are. I’m not sure what season it was from, but I noticed the games were from 2013. I only saw two coaches out of everyone they showed – two – teach any technique at all, or coach in a positive manner. Those were the head coach of the Predators (for those of you who may follow the series) and the president/assistant coach of the Junior Rockets. The rest of those coaches were pure trash.

One coach thinks the game is all about him. After an opening 6-0 loss, he talked about it being the “worst day of his life” – really? He must have had a pretty soft life. Another coach encouraged his kids to chant “F____ the Rockets” before their game. Again….really? They wore t-shirts talking about being the “money team” and that it was time “to get paid”. His star RB would score a TD (he did seem fast and pretty shifty for a 8-9 year old), go over to the other team’s logo on the field and do some stupid movement over it. Again, the coaches were doing the same thing on the sidelines.

Now, in all fairness, I’ve never coached at the youth level of football, other than at a couple of clinics and camps. The “trash” coaches also happened to win the games I saw, while the two coaches I praised above lost their games. So I dunno….maybe at that level, at 8-9 years old, all you have to do is make your kids meaner than the other team – or make them more scared of you than the other team.

I ran into that type of coach once here in San Diego, when my son was looking to play. I never pushed him towards football, although I always did want him to try it. Finally, when he was 12 he told me he wanted to play. Up until that time, he was solely a baseball player. So I signed him up for the local Junior All American team. We were in Vegas with the Surge during the sign-ups, so I didn’t get to meet the coach. When I got back into town, I thought I’d call him up and introduce myself.

I gave him a call and things started off nicely enough. Then the coach said, “Well, I do have some concerns.” I said, “Oh? What are those?” “He’s never played before.” “Right – well, I don’t expect him to be an all star or anything, just coach him up.” “Well, Mr. Ring….you don’t understand. My team is full of ballers. All they do is play football year around.” “No, Coach you don’t understand. This is youth football. If he turns out to be just “a guy” then he that’s what he is. But it is your job to get him ready to play. I’ll help however I can on my end. He’ll do whatever you tell him to, to the best of his ability.” “Well, Mr. Ring I’m pretty sure that he won’t want to continue playing after the first couple of practices.”

I was floored….I hung up and immediately wrote a letter to the president of the league describing the conversation. It turns out that the president had been wanting to get rid of the coach for awhile, but she was waiting until his kids aged out. Well, that, plus he won a ton of games.

I was fortunate in that we found another league, La Jolla Pop Warner, that was included in our residential area. The coach there, Doug Brown, is the exact and total opposite of the youth coaches in FNT and the other SD coach. As it turned out, Travis was “just a guy” – playing football just wasn’t his deal. But he had fun, learned a lot and the team only lost one game all year, in the county championship. Coach Brown is extremely knowledgeable, and has spoken at several Glazier clinics (and will be this weekend) on youth topics.

Coach Brown wasn’t a “soft” coach by any means either. I was at several practices where he lit into guys. He was very demanding. BUT – he coached them, even when he was yelling at them. He taught proper tackling and blocking techniques – it wasn’t just about knocking the hell out of the other guy.

In my opinion, nothing good comes from shows like Friday Night Tykes.  The coaches put on a show (or maybe not) and the kids are too young to know any better. The parents want their 15 minutes of fame as well. I doubt I’ll be watching again.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Tryouts and Differences

As I mentioned last week, we had tryouts for the Nighthawks this past Saturday. 

Registration started at 8:30, and we were due to hit the field at 9:30. I got there at 8:00, and there were probably 10 guys already there, getting loose. By 8:30, we had 30 guys, and by 9:00 we had about 45. Only about 5 guys showed up later than 9:00.

The only downside was that we only had 4 OL there….but given that I didn’t see 5 OL last year until practice 7, having 4 at Tryout #1 is pretty good!

So here’s a difference between the men’s and women’s game: If I’d seen this kind of turnout at a Surge tryout, when the coaches met afterwards, we’d be talking about making our reservations to Pittsburgh in August for the national championship. Seriously….you get that kind of turnout and potential talent on a roster, coupled with a halfway decent coaching staff, you’re going to be really, really good in the women’s game.

For us, we’re hoping to be in the Top Three in Southern California. The Inglewood Blackhawks, the California (Palm Desert) Coyotes, and the Inland Empire (San Bernardino) Raiders are the reigning kings of SoCal football. We’re hoping to be in the mix at the end of things, and believe we will be, but that’s still a long way away.

We’ve got the essentials to be successful: A committed, organized ownership group; a solid group of 10 coaches (the vast majority of whom have been or are current varsity coaches – no guys just coming on from Pop Warner here) and now a good group of guys to start with. Our challenges will be the same as with any talented team – finding the right team chemistry.

One unique thing about this OL group, is that I’ll be coaching two current high school OL coaches. Two (so far) of my guys are coaches themselves, so they’ll hopefully be able to grasp our schemes in a hurry and I’m looking forward to making them not only better players but hopefully better coaches. The discussions about technique and scheme should be interesting.

Looking through Neal Rozendaal’s book, The Women’s Football Encyclopedia (purchase link here) gave me a pretty extreme sense of pride in a few places. One was being able to look back and remember games from 2003, 2004, etc., seeing the scores and then having memories from those games – specific calls, players, plays – pop back into my head like they were yesterday. 

The other was looking at the “record section” that Neal put together: At the top of the list, for points scored per game (minimum 50 games) was the San Diego Surge at 51.5. Over the years, from 2011-15, no one scored more points per game than us. Now, to be sure I’d trade that distinction for a couple more National Championship wins, but lacking those, I’ll take the notoriety where I can get it! The great thing about that was that it was a true total staff effort - in 2011 Mike Vargas was the OC, in 2012 it was Mike Suggett, in 2013 it was me and in 2014-15 it was Carrie Suggett.

Really, you should pick up a copy. It is very comprehensive. I’ve already sent over some player rosters from the old SoCal Scorpions, so that they can get updated in the next edition. I would encourage (as would Neal himself I think) anyone that has that type of information to send it over to him.

I think that’s about it for this week – not a lot going on, and there’s no need for me to just blather on… I’ll see you next week!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

High Expectations

First, a Super Bowl review…..Obviously I was wrong about the outcome of the game. Denver’s defense was way too much for the Panthers to handle. I’d heard that Carolina was going to run (or should run) Newton 15-20 times this game in order to keep Denver’s defense guessing. Well, whether their original plan was to do that or not, I have no idea, but it sure seemed like they needed to do more of it. I think Newton only had maybe 5 designed runs in the game. In the pregame show, they even acted out one of the Panthers’ trademark runs – counter read left with an option to the right. I saw them run it once during the game. They had success early with an option, but never really came back to it. A couple of times it looked like they had the option pretty open, but either Newton didn’t read it or it wasn’t a play that allowed him to read. I don’t know…..not sure what the plan was. I would’ve liked to have seen more of what got them there.

Same thing with screens and rollouts…..something, anything to take some pressure off of not only Newton, but the OL. The tackles were highlighted the most, but I saw breakdowns at LG and C as well. They hit a nice screen early to the TE, but never came back to it. It was almost like OC Mike Shula had them in his First 15 script, but then forgot to look at what worked.

Anyway, congratulations to the Broncos and Peyton Manning on a fine career. I hope he walks away now with his head held high. Also a shout out to former Aggies Gary Kubiak and Von Miller!

I’ve been contemplating the Nighthawks’ upcoming season and also talked very briefly with a women’s coach about their team. The Nighthawks are in our second year, and the women’s team is in their third year. The Nighthawks’ expectations are through the roof and them women’s team is still on the upswing.

What is the main predictor of success in either the men’s or the women’s game? The answer is simple: practice attendance. The success that the SoCal Scorpions had from 2005-07 and the Surge had from 2011-2014 had a lot to do with commitment from the players to be at practice. In 2015, the Surge had a striking drop in practice attendance percentage. “Other things” just kept coming up for a lot of people. As a result, a team that had a lot more talent than the 2013 team ended up with the same 9-2 record. We always say that family and work come first as priorities, but football has to be *a* priority. It doesn’t have to be the top one, but it has to be on the short list. Players and coaches have to stop finding excuses for not being at practice, and instead find ways to get there. For years, we prided ourselves on a 90+% attendance rate. This year it was probably down to 75%. That’s good enough for a winning record, but when your expectations are to compete for a national championship, it’s not going to work. On the men’s side, the 2012 National City Bears were pretty good in that area, and we won a league championship in large part because of the commitment from players.

Practice Attendance goes hand-in-hand with “buy in” from the team to what the coaches are teaching. Not too long ago on the women’s side, it didn’t take much to get buy in from the players. They were so new that they didn’t know any better, and had no exposure to other staffs and ways of doing things. We were fortunate that with the Surge we had a very solid, experienced staff of teachers. Players that came from other teams generally were pleased with how they were now getting coached when they came over to us. The biggest thing with female players is that they want to know “why” they have to do things. As long as you can articulate that to them, they’re good with it. But if you take the “because I said so” approach, they will tune you out in a heartbeat.

On the guys’ side, buy in is a little trickier. Guys have usually been coached by a lot of different people. They may be very set in their ways and resistant to change. They may think they’re too good to be coached (in fairness, some of the female players are getting that way now as well). I firmly believe that it is the coaches’ job to create that buy in….even if the players are the ones that ultimately have to decide whether the team is more important than their ego.

As an Offensive Coordinator, I have to show each position how the offense will benefit them. In my personal philosophy, that means showing how a balanced offense opens up opportunities for everyone to be successful. There are trade-offs, to be sure: Wide receivers need to block in the run game for the RB’s. But when defenders become focused on stopping the run, it opens up opportunities for the WR in the passing game. RB’s may have to pick up blitzes in the pass game, but that also increases their receiving yardage opportunities via screens. Offensive linemen get the benefit of defenders not knowing what is coming next, so play slower. I sell the mantra of “making the defense play with doubt” a lot.

So when you talk about team expectations, take into consideration more than just what your raw talent will get you. Is it better to have “Athlete A” who is about a 90 on the talent scale, but only shows up when he feels like it for practice and consistently misses assignments during the games, or “Athlete B” who is a still solid 75 on the talent scale, but attends every practice, gets in sync with his teammates and rarely makes a mental mistake? I know who I’m taking.

Our “buy in” starts this Saturday at tryouts….I’ll talk about it next week.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Fun Stuff

Sort of a slow news week this week. I hear there’s a kind of big game this week though….who do you have? Although I think that if anyone has the ability to slow down the Panthers offense it is Denver, it’s not like Carolina’s defense is trash. They’re pretty dang good! So I think that Carolina will be able to outscore the Broncos.

People have been bagging on Cam Newton for being too cocky. I dunno – I just don’t see it. I see a big kid having fun playing a game, and playing it well. We should all have so much fun at our jobs. I wonder though… many kids will be in the stands to receive a game ball? Not sure I spend a couple grand to take a small child to a Super Bowl…..

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I started individually training a local high school OL, my first time undertaking solo training like that. I found quickly that I had to enlist my son to come out a be a shield holder. Not sure he’s too happy about that. He’s a strong kid, and good-sized, but at just under 200 pounds he’s giving up about 90 pounds to the kid I’m training.

Anyway, the kid and I are having a blast. He was OK as a sophomore last season, showed good mobility with good size and a bit of a mean streak which is something you often have to coach a kid into. You know, kids that are bigger than their friends are always told before they go out to play, “Now play nice and don’t hurt anyone.” So a lot of times I’ve found that kids like that have to be encouraged to be a bit of a nasty SOB on the field. This kid seems to have that, albeit often times last year it was against physically overmatched opponents. His high school is going into a tougher league next year, so we’ve been gearing up for that.

Watching him on film last year, he was typical of a young offensive lineman – it was only his second year of football – in that his footwork wasn’t consistent and he didn’t have a great punch. He’d go up and shove people, or bump them, and because he was so much bigger, a lot of times they’d just fall down. But he got stalemated at the LOS often, because he’d “reach” instead of “punch”. So we’ve been working a ton on his punch, and this past week I think the light finally started going on. That is as rewarding a feeling for a coach as there is.
We’ll just continue to refine his techniques and consistency. I keep telling him that being a successful OL just means doing the “same boring (stuff) hundreds, if not thousands of times.”

I was also recently contacted by a high school coach in Las Vegas, who just got hired and needs to do some rebuilding after a 2-8 or 3-7 season. Road trips to Vegas are always fun, so I’m looking forward to setting that up – getting what he wants to run, what he wants to emphasize, etc. so I can come up with a mini-camp plan for his guys.

Then, I was just called on Monday by an old friend who I coached with at Fountain Valley in the 90’s. He just got the Offensive Coordinator job at one of the top programs in Orange County and wants to meet up so he can pick my brain (I told him it would only take as long to drink a glass of water, but for some reason he still wants to meet). In this case, knowing that the program is already at a very high level (the previous Head Coach retired after 37 seasons – they’ll probably either name a building on campus for him or erect a statue) and knowing how tough the competition is and how well they’re coached gets my adrenaline going a bit! I definitely want to do everything I can for him to make sure he gets going on the right foot. Heck, his OL coach may be way better than me – neither of us have any idea yet – but if nothing else I can help him get conversant on a nuts and bolts level with current trends in OL play.

Finally, my men’s team, the Nighthawks, had our orientation last Saturday. We had 41 guys show up, with another 10-15 contacting coaches to offer their apologies for not making it. For an initial meet ‘n greet, that’s pretty good, considering the same type of meeting last year at my former team netted 10 players. The competition for spots on this team will be intense, and will go a long way to getting San Diego semi-pro ball back where it was back in the mid-to-late 2000’s when the San Diego Thunder was winning everything in sight.

OK, all – enjoy the last game of the football season!